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For each new project, I always find a passage in Rebecca Solnit’s collection of essays, As Eve Said to the Serpent, which explains what I am trying to do more eloquently than I ever could. It’s a little creepy. Here’s a quote that’s relevant for my recent work, and for any artist who uses found materials, and really for every New Yorker who drinks coffee:

The artist Mary Lucier, whose videos deal with the representational traditions of landscape, once told a San Francisco audience, ‘You don’t understand–-for us on the East Coast, nature is in the past tense.”

A New Yorker who declares her alienation from nature might consider, while having morning coffee, that the city’s water comes from an Adirondacks watershed, one of the world’s first large nature preserves; consider the source of the milk in an outlying dairy farm and the coffee’s more distant genesis in Third World tropical highlands–might, in fact, recognize that the cup of coffee is a link to sublime, pastoral, and exotic landscapes in which the drinker participates, if only as an unwitting consumer; consider also that the coffee grounds and milk carton will probably end up at the Fresh Kills Land Fill on Staten Island, which recently exceeded the Great Wall of China as the largest manmade object on Earth; and should recognize that the cup of coffee is as potent a representation of–and more material tie to–absent landscapes than images could be.

Here it is not the landscape that is absent but the ability to read its languages, a lack artists have addressed in works attempting to speak in terms of substances and systems.”

For more on this subject, read her essay Dirt.

My collages, as I say in the press release, “unite image with substance, representation with presentation.” In every cup of coffee,  in every computer and city, there is a hidden landscape. Choosing not to see it is what got us into this mess, to put it bluntly. So I am trying to reveal it in one object: the New York phone book.

Here are some works by other artists whose materials tell a story:

Francis Alÿs’s The Collector, in which he walked around Mexico City with magnetic shoes and a magnetic toy dog, attracting & accumulating bits of metal.

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Ana Mendieta — Still from Blood and Feathers #2

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Simon Starling’s Shedboatshed (Mobile Architecture No. 2), for which he disassembled an existing shed, built the wooden planks into a rowboat, used it to travel down the Rhine to his exhibition space, and then reassembled it back into a shed.

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2 thoughts on “Substance + Image

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